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Frost Throttles California’s Central Coast

April 27, 2011

California’s Central Coast region is recovering from one of its worst frosts in years, with as much as half of the 26,000-acre Paso Robles vineyard area seeing damage, and some plots likely to be entirely unusable. Area growers are hoping secondary and tertiary buds will alleviate some of the effects of the frost—which occurred April 8-10—but crop loss will likely be extensive.

David Gates, head of vineyard operations for super-premium winery Ridge Vineyards, says the frost is likely to hold down volumes of Ridge’s Paso Robles Zinfandel offering—sourced from the region’s Benito Dusi vineyard—in the next few years. “For now we’re fine, because 2009 and 2010 were good years, but coming into 2012 and 2013 we’ll have less of the Paso Robles to sell,” he says. “Benito Dusi probably lost about half its crop.” Ridge’s Paso Robles Zin ($28-$30 a bottle) accounts for about 6,000 cases in a good year, but could drop to as little as 2,500 cases as a result of the crop loss.

The frost could also affect larger producers such as Constellation, whose Estancia, Blackstone and Robert Mondavi Private Selection brands, among others, are sourced from the Central Coast. Constellation’s senior vice president of operations Greg Fowler says it’s too early to predict the impact of the frost on the group’s area wines. “We’re cautiously optimistic as secondary buds are starting to push in a number of our vineyards, indicating vine activity is progressing,” he says. “It’s important to remember that frost events are pretty localized and that one vineyard might be toasted when the one next door is fine. I suspect the overall damage to be low on reds compared to the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.”

As the extent of the damage is sorted out, some grape sales between growers and wineries have been put on hold. Prior to the frost, grape prices in California appeared poised to rebound after years of low demand. That nascent trend could be accelerated as a result of the recent damage to the Central Coast crop.

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